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Sonia move splits NDA

New Delhi, May 20: Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to become Prime Minister has hit an already shrunken National Democratic Alliance.

The eight-member Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), one of the two NDA partners to perform well in the general elections, is likely to extend all cooperation to Prime Minister-elect Manmohan Singh.

Following the Akali line is another ally, the Indian Federal Democratic Party led by former Union minister P.C. Thomas, who joined the NDA a few months before the polls.

Sources close to Thomas said he won by 524 votes in his Kerala constituency — because of his image and support from a section of Christians — and is unlikely to stick with the alliance.

The Manmohan factor may also work with the two-member Asom Gana Parishad as the Prime Minister-elect is a Rajya Sabha member from Assam.

The sentiment was evident when Akali Dal’s Delhi chief Avtar Singh Hitt said: “This is a very proud moment for the Sikh community. He is a very knowledgeable person and we are sure that under him, India will progress a lot.”

Even the 1984 anti-Sikh riots appeared to take a backseat with Hitt. “Some people in the Congress had hurt Sikh sentiments, but with this decision of the Congress president, we are really delighted.”

In the Janata Dal (United), once the bulwark of the NDA with 22 MPs, the Sonia factor appeared to be at work.

Since its decimation to six in its home turf of Bihar and an overall tally of eight MPs, the Dal (U)’s senior leaders do not approve of party chief George Fernandes’s campaign against Sonia becoming Prime Minister.

The party is sharply divided, blaming Fernandes and the BJP (which bagged five seats in Bihar) for the alliance’s dismal performance. Dal (U) leader and former Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra has already demanded that the party sever ties with the BJP.

Some other leaders have also questioned Fernandes’ wisdom in “organising and addressing a motley crowd of 25 ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) workers at Jantar Mantar” to protest against Sonia. A leader said it was shameful to see a veteran socialist addressing the ABVP.

Fernandes has lost considerable moral authority after the Dal (U)’s drubbing and his narrow victory from Muzaffarpur.

Another bulwark of the NDA, the Telugu Desam Party, has adopted an ambiguous stand since its poll debacle, saying it was never part of the alliance but gave only issue-based support from outside.

Badly mauled, the Trinamul Congress is still debating whether or not to dump the BJP and back the Congress.

The 22-party BJP-led alliance is now left with five major partners — the Dal (U), Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal and Trinamul — and a few splinter groups from the Northeast.

Before the polls, as many as seven parties — the National Conference, the DMK, PMK, MDMK, INLD, RLD and the BSP — walked out of the NDA.

Of the existing partners, the Sena lost three seats, Trinamul crashed to two by losing seven, the Desam won five against 29 in 1999, and new ally ADMK drew a blank.

Last week, when it became evident the Congress was set to form the next government, the Nagaland People’s Front and the Sikkim Democratic Front, too, desired to back the Congress-led coalition.

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